Whether you’re graduating this year, someday in the future or sometime in the past, you could probably use some inspiring and wise words. In that case, it’s your lucky day — we’ve got the best commencement speeches of the year for you.
Without further ado, here’s the best of the best.
‘The trick is to listen to your instincts’
Actress Helen Mirren brought on the laughs with strong advice for Tulane University grads May 20.
“The trick is to listen to your instincts, grab the opportunity when it presents itself and then give it your all,” she said. “Like a hangover, neither triumph nor disaster lasts forever.”
Mirren presented her own “Helen’s Top Five Rules for a Happy Life” to the new degree holders.
Rule number one? “Don’t be in a rush to get married.”
Number two: “Treat people just like people, every single person, whether they have dominion over your life or not, deserves equal respect and generosity.”
Number three: “Ignore anyone who judges the way you look, especially if it’s some anonymous creep lurking on the Internet. If you are that person lurking on the Internet, stop it.”
Four: “Don’t be afraid of fear… Throw caution to the winds. Look fear straightaway in its ugly face and barge forward. And when you get past it, turn around and give it a good, swift kick in the ass.”
As for number five, Mirren said to “not over-complicate things.”
‘Take the risk’
“Because the truth of me, the inner voice that I allowed to get still and feel, said ‘take the risk. Bet on yourself,’” Oprah Winfrey said to Skidmore graduates May 20. “And it is your job to know the truth and let that truth set you free.”
She referred to that time in her life where she took a leap to leave a stable job in Baltimore and go to Chicago to start her own talk show. “Every decision I’ve ever made I’ve come back to that space and allowed myself to live in the space of intentional living.”
“I started to make my decisions on what I intended,” she said. “What do I really intend to happen from the outcome of this decision or this choice?”
Winfrey also pushed the method of being grateful for everything along the journey.
“I practice being grateful,” she added. “I got everything because I practiced being grateful.”
‘Being a lot smarter, by being a self-starter’
Award-winning biographer Ron Chernow — who wrote the book that became the basis of the musical Hamilton — surprised the commencement crowd at Lafayette College by rapping Alexander Hamilton May 20.
Yes, he did.
He also had a few other things to say.
“Life,” Chernow commented, “is less of a blueprint than an improvisation; less a finished work of art than a work in progress; a high-wire act, not some stroll in the woods… The unforeseen future lying in wait for you may actually be infinitely more exciting than anything you can possibly imagine today.”
‘It takes strength to lean on others’
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO and author of Lean In, talked a lot about resilience at her address to Virginia Tech grads May 12.
“I learned that it takes strength to rely on others. There are times to lean in, and there are times to lean on,” she said. “Build resilient communities,” Sandberg, who just wrote a book about resilience in the wake of the loss of her husband, added. “Be there for your friends and family. And I mean in person – not just in a message with a heart emoji. Even though those are pretty great too.”
“Be there for your neighbors; it’s a divided time in our country, and we need you to help us heal. Lift each other up and celebrate each and every moment of joy.”
She also pushed being proactive. “When you see something that’s broken and there is a lot that is broken out there, go fix it.”
‘We have so much power to make a difference’
Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey talked to graduates at University of Pennsylvania May 15.
“In fact, in truth, more than a big speech than you’ve prepared for, more than a big goal or a big dream, more than the big fight, more than our race, more than our religion, it is our actions every day that define who we are,” he said. “They define us.”
He shared stories of kindness and steps towards change:
“I’ve begun to learn in my life that perhaps the biggest thing you could in a given day is really just a small act of kindness, of decency, of love, an exhibition of moral imagination, or creative compassion. I wonder about this when we miss our opportunities every single day with just the people around us while we talk big about changing the world or about what’s wrong with other people, but we forget that we have so much power to make a difference.”
‘Prove them wrong’
President Trump addressed fresh graduates at Liberty University May 13.
“The more people tell you it’s not possible, that it can’t be done, the more you should be absolutely determined to prove them wrong,” he said. “Treat the word ‘impossible’ as nothing more than motivation.”
Continuing on similar themes, Trump pushed the belief of great courage and strength.
“Following your convictions means you must be willing to face criticism from those who lack the same courage,” Trump said.
The president also challenged new grads: “What will you give back to this country — and, indeed, to the world?”
‘Don’t sit back and wait for good things to happen’
Nine-time Emmy Award-winning writer Steven Levitan, behind Modern Family, spoke at University of Wisconsin-Madison May 13. He advocated for taking risks and not being afraid of failure — even after failing nine times in a row himself.
“Don’t sit back and wait for good things to happen, make them happen,” he said. “Shake off your past limitations and be the best version of yourself. Live up to your potential.”
Levitan also understands how things are these days.
“Now there’s so much you could do, it becomes paralyzing,” he said. “With the world at your fingertips, you always feel like you should be making something and putting it online, or amping your presence on LinkedIn, or keeping up with all the amazing things everyone’s doing on social media.”
He quipped, “Plus, your phone’s always dying.”
‘Make a difference in the world’
Hillary Clinton went back to her alma mater of Wellesley College May 26, about 48 years after the time she spoke at her own Wellesley graduation.
“Don’t be afraid of your ambition, of your dreams, or even your anger,” Clinton said in her speech. “Those are powerful forces, but harness them to make a difference in the world.”
She also understands how contentious a culture young adults are experiencing these days.
“You are graduating at a time when there is a full-fledged assault on truth and reason,” she said. “Just log on to social media for 10 seconds, and it will hit you right in the face.”
Even with all the challenges, Clinton still believes in the new graduates.
‘Get in the way’
Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts graduates in North Adams got advice from U.S. Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis May 13.
“Get out there, get in the way, get in trouble, good trouble, necessary trouble and make some noise,” he said. “You are on your way to go and change the world.”
‘Disturb the universe’
Former Secretary of State John Kerry talked to Harvard University Kennedy School grads May 24.
He talked a lot about activism, getting involved, and addressing important issues of society today.
“While we are fighting just to hold on to truths long ago decided, far more is at stake—and we aren’t even scratching the surface,” he said. “It’s in the struggle for the future … The challenges that we aren’t confronting, the issues that we aren’t facing, the questions that leaders aren’t even asking, where we need to shake the free world out of its slumber and wrestle with what’s really coming at us.”
With that, Kerry looked to the new generation of leaders. “Class of 2017, it is your responsibility to disturb the universe, and make our world right — right now.”
‘Stand up and fight back’
Former presidential candidate and current Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spoke to the Brooklyn College Class of 2017 this May 30.
He called on all graduates to “reclaim American democracy” in his talk referring to the income and wealth gap in the country, along with issues of democracy, taxes, and activism.
“We can throw our hands up in despair. We can say ‘the system is rigged, I am not going to get involved’ — and that is understandable. But it is wrong,” Sanders said. “You do not have the moral right to turn your back on saving this planet and saving future generations.”
“The only rational choice we have, the only real response we can make is to stand up and to fight back, reclaim American democracy, and create a government that works for all of us, not just the one percent,” he continued.
‘Go out and wake us up’
Former Vice President Joe Biden was the commencement speaker at Cornell University’s commencement May 27.
“There’s no reason why you and your generation — the class of 2017 — can’t have a similar and more profound impact on this country than my generation did,” he said in his speech. “And I mean it.”
“I’m so optimistic about your generation that I’m optimistic about this country,” he said, later adding: “It’s time for the country to wake up and ladies and gentlemen of the graduating class of 2017, go out and wake us up.”
‘You have to create a sense of purpose for others’
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke at Harvard University’s commencement ceremony May 25.
He called the Class of 2017 graduates to action, by pressing them to take on meaningful projects, redefining equality, and building community worldwide.
“Now it’s our turn to do great things,” he said. “I know, you’re probably thinking: I don’t know how to build a dam, or get a million people involved in anything.”
“I know a lot of you will have your own stories just like this. A change in the world that seems so clear you’re sure someone else will do it. But they won’t. You will. But it’s not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others.”
‘America needs you’
Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren was the commencement speaker at UMass-Amherst May 12.
Her speech called for the graduates to become engaged with their communities, and to advocate for what they believe in around the country.
“America needs your commitment, and, here’s the thing, you need the commitment. Advocacy— getting involved in issues you care about and fighting for them—can reshape our country, and I guarantee it will reshape you,” she said.
“No matter what other work you do every day, if you find the issues that matter to you and you get in the fight, you will build a life with more heart flutters and fewer ‘don’t make me move’ moments. You will build a life that is deeply worthwhile.”
‘Go forth and rock.’
Journalist, CNN correspondent and Dartmouth alum Jake Tapper gave a speech to Dartmouth’s graduates June 11.
Tapper gave the grads the useful and practical advice first:
“Always write thank-you notes.
Be a big tipper.
Always split Aces and Eights.
Call your folks.
Invest in a good mattress.
Shine your shoes.
Don’t tweet, post Instagram, or email anything you wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing on the front page of the New York Times.
Be nice to seniors.
Be nice to children.
Never miss an opportunity to charge an electronic device.
Use two-step verification.”
But, Tapper also delved deeper. He talked of uncertainty in the career world, embracing adventure, service, persistence and rejection:
“And this is the most important thing I can tell you today, Class of 2017. Don’t just work hard at your job; work hard at everything. Work hard at being a friend. Work hard at being a partner, at being a son or a daughter, at being a grandchild, at being a steward in your community, at caring about people who have never had a day like the one you’re having today. At being the best YOU that you can be, Class of 2017, all of you, A to Z, from the best Alexander Abate to the best Jonathan Zuttah.”
‘I will always love you’
Actor Will Ferrell — now Dr. Will Ferrell — addressed the University of Southern California May 12.
He made his speech special by pulling off an impromptu performance of Whitney Houston’s classic I Will Always Love You.
Filed under: CAMPUS BEAT Tagged: Bernie Sanders, commencement, commencement address, Commencement addresses, commencement speakers, commencement speeches, Donald Trump, elizabeth warren, graduation, Hamilton, Helen Mirren, Hillary Clinton, Jake Tapper, Joe Biden, John Kerry, john lewis, Mark Zuckerberg, oprah winfrey, rob chernow, stephen levitan, Will Ferrell